A simple guide to the Indian Numbering System!

As we get ready to start our Population Project research, it is important to understand something about the way numbers are often written and talked about in India.

Before we start, it’s important to know that the value of the numbers don’t change. In fact, our modern base-10 numbering system, which relies on zero and is based on the idea of place value, was invented in India before it traveled to Europe through the Arab world!

But the Indian numbering system uses different landmark numbers than the International numbering system we are familiar with. This is important, because many articles you read will talk about ‘lakhs’ and ‘crores’–and you may also see commas used differently, from time to time. These are not mistakes, they are just a different way of talking about and writing big numbers. And it It is really important to have some idea about what these landmark numbers mean, when you are dealing with large numbers (as you will, when you read about money and population!)

To make matters more difficult, sometimes the one article will use both landmarks. That’s because most Indians who read and write in English are comfortable with both kinds of benchmarks. But don’t worry. This post will make it all easy. First, we’ll look at a basic chart. Then we’ll look at what this means IRL!

Below is a basic landmark translation. I’ve bolded the Indian landmarks you’ll see most often.

International System: landmark numeral International System: landmark word Indian System: landmark numeral Indian System: landmark word
1,000 thousand 1,000 thousand (same!)
100,0000 a hundred thousand 1,00,000 one lakh
1,000,000 million 10,00,000 ten lakhs
10,000,000 ten million 1,00,00,000 one crore (100 lakhs)!
1,000,000,000 one billion 1,00,00,00,000 one hundred crore or one arab (not commonly used)
1,000,000,000,000 one trillion 10,00,00,00,00,000 one lakh crore (100,000 x 10,000,000)

If you are a little confused, don’t worry. Big numbers are difficult to wrap your head around, in any mathematical system or language. That’s why landmark numbers are so important: they help us think about big numbers without exploding our brains! Seriously, that is why. If you tried to actually imagine 100,000 people, to say nothing of 1,000,000,000,000 rupees, your brain might actually blow a fuse!

The following tables with real-life examples might help you. They helped me!

Population landmarks:

Real-life landmarks (approximate) International System words Indian System words
Population of my hometown, Portland, Oregon five hundred thousand people five lakh people
Population of Oregon three million people thirty lakh people
Population of Delhi 18 million 1.8 crore
Population of the US 320 million 32 crore
Population of India 1.3 billion 130 crore


Money Landmarks (for those working on budgets, the economy or demonetization):

Real Life money landmark In rupees (International System numeral) In rupees (Indian System word) Dollar Value (at 68 Rs/dollar)
A nice computer Rs. 100,000 one lakh $1470
A used car Rs. 680,000 6.8 lakhs $ 10,0000
A nice flat in Delhi Rs. 680,000 68 lakhs $100,000
A really nice flat in Delhi Rs. 40,000,000 4 crore $588,0000
Value of money cancelled in Demonetization Rs. 15,440,000,000,000

(15.44 trillion rupees)

15.44 lakh crore $227,058,823,529

(227 billion dollars)

Just for fun! Rs. 1,000,000,000,000 1 lakh crore $14,705,882,352

14.7 billion dollars


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